Versatile Wheels

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Last week, I traded emails with a fellow who was interested in a set of our wheels.  He liked everything about the whole thing, except that he really didn't like that what we call "in stock" wheels are actually wheels that need to be built, which in times of extreme wheel building activity like what we are about to embark on (parts shipment coming in) might mean a delay of maybe three weeks from order.  And in a real sense I agree that "in stock" is a misnomer to some degree.  Our point in using that phrase is that we have the parts and pieces, not that the wheels are built and sitting on a shelf.  There are important reasons why we don't build everything up straight away.

First, we do build all of our wheels 100% by hand.  It takes time, it takes coordination, it takes space, blah blah blah.  We feel that building by hand does a number of good things.  For your benefit, we think that the best built wheels are built by hand.  Not going to go out and get into the whole "craftsman" line or anything like that.  It's a skill that improves with practice.  We do it a lot.  People like the results.  It forces us to see pretty much everything about the wheel and all of its pieces the whole way through.  You just become familiar with each element of each wheel as you put them together.  It's a good QC process if nothing else.  We're also able to tailor wheels a bit to the buyer.  For some really big, powerful guys we'll use a different drive side spoke to give and extra soupcon of "this thing ain't going ANYwhere."  We might 1x lace (instead of radial) a front wheel that's going to a big guy, to help with front hub flange stress.  Stuff like that.  There are lots of little tricks.  

For both of our benefit, building to order allows us to get MUCH more out of a manageable stock.  Consider a 24 hole 38mm clincher rim.  First, it could be a front or rear wheel.  It could have black or silver Laser spokes, or black of silver CX Ray spokes.  It could have regular hubs, or White Industries hubs in either of two colors, or King hubs in one of ten colors.  My calculator's in the shop but I think that's 104 distinct wheels which share that one rim as the basic element.  Oh, I forgot Powertaps, so add 8 more options (2 Powertap hub choices in 4 colors each).  112 wheels using one rim.  Offering as much choice as we do necessitates this, and while at one point you could tell me "I'm ordering a set of wheels" and I could guess "regular laced 38s with stock hubs and siler spokes, then, eh?" that time is over.  At this point, we sell a metric whole bunch of Powertaps, and a whole whole lot of Chris King and White Industry hubs - it's become a losing game to try and predict what people will choose.  

Rims get stored on racks.  Each rim's perimeter is labeled with depth and spoke count, while we rely on keen visual instincts to tell between clincher or tubular.  Even when we have really light inventory, we have A LOT of rims hanging around, and while our storage solution is tight, they take up space.  When wheels get built, they take up about 6 times the amount of space that they did as just rims.  Storing too many built wheels is a bummer that we try to mostly avoid.  

And then we have spokes.  Holy cow, do we have spokes.  Last weekend, I finally undertook to improve the ultra basic way I was storing spoke inventory.  Step one was to go to The Container Store (only place that had the right kind of tubes) and buy them out of cardboard tubes.  Next was to label each tube with a length, color and model (for example, "265mm Silver Laser"), and then store each tube in a milk carton.  The "Silver Laser" carton will have 23 lengths in it when it's done (need more tubes).  Each tube holds around 250 spokes.  Since we are prepping for a big build, each tube is mostly full.  I can barely pick up the milk carton, and it represents several thousand dollars worth of inventory.  Milk carton 2 will have silver and black CX Rays and black Lasers.  We don't stock as many of these, so for the time being they will all live in one crate, differentiated by cap color on the tubes.  It's a good system, and when we have builds that rely on every length of spoke between 241 and 295mm (plus a few shorter ones for the 85s), it's really necessary.  

The hubs are in one of those rolling stand of drawers things like you get at IKEA.  Special project and special order hubs are in the top two, then 24 hole standard hubs (front and rear) are in one drawer, 28 hole standard hubs are in another, and finally the 32 hole rear and 20 hole front standard hubs are in another.  Freehub bodies get stored with the non-standard hubs.  

So that's pretty much the soup to nuts explanation of why wheels that we call "in stock" aren't sitting in a box right now, ready but for a shipping label to tell them where to go.  


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  • Dave Kirkpatrick on

    Brian – Thanks!Christian – My most recent order got delivered almost 2 weeks ago. Some lengths of black Lasers were back ordered but everything else was good. CX Rays weren't a huge part of that order – only a few hundred spokes. The short short lengths (220 to 230) are usually a pain – we usually wind up with long barrel 230s cut to length – but since we only use a few lengths that short we keep a small buffer stock of those.

  • Christian on

    Hello, share as little, or as much, as is prudent for your biz – but getting CX Rays isn't an easy task as of late. DId you buy these super early or did you buy a MASSIVE amount? Thanks for reading.Christian Mingle (yes, code name)

  • Brian on

    And this is exactly why you guys rock. You take the most customer centric approach that allows optimization of custom build/turn around time/price. Anyone wanting to improve in one of those three areas is going to sacrifice in the others. Your model can't be beat in that regard. BUT this model is not workable for a larger company who's profit is volume based. Keep doing what you're doing and I'll keep coming back to you guys for my needs.

  • Joe Ajello on

    What are your most popular wheels? Have you had any surprises with wheels that sold better than you expected? Worse than expected? Did you see a big trend in the orders you are getting. I ask solely out of curiosity.

  • Dave Kirkpatrick on

    Brian -More wheelbuilders. I do the builds with another guy now. We're starting a third guy in the background (I ride wheels he's built until we know all we need to do is QC his builds like we do for the builds now). Inevitably, the pre-orders are going to shrink as a % of total sales, so we don't have an on/off workflow. Priority in the build queue is always going to be first in/first out, and the quickest route is always going to be to buy "in stock" wheels. Right now, people respond more to choice than speed from us. Waiting an extra week or two to get just the wheels you want is what people are into. Maybe in the future it morphs to where people want wheels RIGHT NOW. and in that case we may choose to keep the most popular standard builds ready to go. That then reduces the load for semi-custom orders that come in, because some % of our builds will be done during otherwise quiet times – when nothing much else is going on, we build buffer stock of the most popular standard wheels. Our job is always going to be to respond to what people want. Mike and I don't personally like black spokes, and neither of us thinks the cost:benefit of CX Rays is a win, but people want them so we provide them – they certainly don't compromise quality. They do have extra costs (both material and process), and people are willing to accept that. Our balance is currently tilted to prioritize material and build quality (which will always be the case no matter what), a good price, and the choice to get exactly what you want. It's not possible for us to deliver right away with that balance. Once you get beyond the "how do we get the orders to start coming in?" phase, which we're not past but becomesLess of THE concern all the time, managing growth is probably the #1 challenge for any young business. Dave



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